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Ahern speech to Congress in full

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Madam Speaker
Mr. Vice-President
Members of Congress
Chairman and Past Chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Mr Neal and Mr Walsh
My Distinguished Predecessor as Taoiseach, Ambassador Bruton
Distinguished Guests

Thank you for your kind introduction.
Your invitation to address this Joint Meeting this morning honours my country and honours me also.
It reaffirms the enduring bonds of friendship and esteem between our two peoples and between our two republics.
Those bonds have been built and nurtured and refreshed over the centuries.
America and Ireland have something that goes beyond a friendship between countries. To be an Irishman among Americans is to be at home.
So, Madam Speaker, I stand here before you as a proud son of Ireland.
And I stand with you as a steadfast friend of the United States of America.
I know, Madam Speaker, like so many others assembled here, you share many links with Ireland and with County Wicklow in particular.
A famous son of Wicklow, the son also of an American mother, Charles
Stewart Parnell, stood in this place 128 years ago, the first Irish leader to do so.
Parnell turned to the United States, as have many Irish leaders since, as we strove to emulate the achievements of America and to vindicate the principles that inspired your founding fathers: the principles of liberty, of equality and of justice.
In the early part of the last century, Eamon De Valera came here seeking help as Ireland struggled for her independence.
In more recent times, many Irish leaders have come here in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland.
Whenever we have asked for help, America has always been there for us ? a friend in good times and in bad.
From the very outset, Ireland gave to America presidents, patriots and productive citizens of a new nation.
Beginning with the Scots-Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries, they came from all corners of our island and from all creeds.
The Irish helped to build America.
The very bricks and stones in this unique building were quarried and carried by the hands of Irish immigrant labourers.
A sculptor of Scots-Irish Descent, Thomas Crawford, created the figure of Freedom, the statue later raised to the top of this famous dome here on Capitol Hill.

It reminds us all of the shared values of democracy and freedom which inspired both our journeys towards independence the values that shine as a beacon of light and that stand strong as a city upon the hill among all the nations of the earth.
That statue also tells our Irish immigrant story – a story which is an indelible part of America?s own story of immigration, of struggle and of success.
The great waves of Irish immigration in the 19th century carried millions to your shores in flight from famine and despair. They carried little with them as they arrived on these shores, except a determination to work hard and to succeed.
In the words of the poet Eavan Boland, that eloquent voice of Ireland and America, they had
Their hardships parcelled in them.
Patience. Fortitude.
Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World.
And all the old songs.
And nothing to lose.
To them, and the legions of others who came before and after, America was more than a destination.
It was a destiny.
We see that same spirit in the New Irish at home today – the many people from beyond our shores who are now making new lives in Ireland. They too had the courage to come to a foreign place, to find their way and to provide for themselves, for their children and, in many cases, for their families far away.
The New Ireland – once a place so many left – is now a place to which so many come. These newcomers to our society have enriched the texture of our land and of our lives.
We are working, as are you, to welcome those who contribute to our society as they lift up their own lives, while we also address the inevitable implications for our society, our culture, our community and our way of life.
So we are profoundly aware of those challenges as we ask you to consider the case of our undocumented Irish immigrant community in the United States today. We hope you will be able to find a solution to their plight that would enable them to regularise their status and open to them a path to permanent residency.
There is of course a wider issue for Congress to address. And it is your definitive right to address it in line with the interests of the American people.
I welcome the wise words of your President when he addressed you on the State of the Union earlier this year and said he hoped to find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally, to resolve a complicated issue in a way that upholds both America’s laws and her highest ideals.
On this great issue of immigration to both our shores, let us resolve to make the fair and rational choices, the practical and decent decisions, so that in future people will look back and say:
They chose well.
They did what was right for their country.
Madam Speaker,
For millions across the globe, the great symbol of the freedom and the welcome of America is the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline.
The promise inscribed there says so much about this country:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Annie Moore was one of those who heard that promise.
She was a young Irish girl, aged only 15, from County Cork.
She was the first immigrant to pass through the Ellis Island Immigration Station when it was officially opened in 1892. She came here with her brothers to make a new life in America. Her story is one among millions.
The Irish are to be found in the police departments and the fire houses, in the hospitals, the schools and the universities, in the board rooms and on the construction sites, in the churches and on the sports fields of America.
Their contribution is seen in much of the great literature, film, art and music that America has given to the world.
Each of them is a green strand woven into the American dream.
In all of America, there is Irish America.
My friends,
On September 11, 2001, some of the most terrible, evil events in world history occurred.
Close to Ellis Island, near this very building and in the skies and fields of Pennsylvania.
It is a day that is etched into the memory of all humanity.
On that day, Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York Fire Department and the son of Irish immigrants from County Leitrim, rushed to the World Trade Centre to help those who were in danger and to minister to the injured and the dying.
Along with so many other good, innocent people, Father Mike died inside the Twin Towers that day.
He was officially designated Victim Number 1.
Of course, he was no more important than any other victim.
He was just a simple man of faith and of courage trying to help others.
In recognition of the bravery of all who died on that terrible day, I am deeply honoured to be joined here today by some of Father Mike?s comrades from the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department.
I honour them and all of their fallen comrades – those who fell on that day and all who have fallen doing their duty to serve the people.
There was a day of national mourning in Ireland after 9/11.
Every city, town and village fell silent in remembrance of the dead.
The names on the casualty list of the terrorist attack included Boyle, Crotty, Collins, Murphy, McSweeney and O’Neill – our names, the names of our families and our friends, the names of our nation.
There are many other names too, from many other nations.
Those attacks were an attack on the free nations of the world and on humanity itself.
No words of mine then or now can adequately address such an immense tragedy.
But I could not come to this place today without pausing to reflect and to remember and honour those who died on that day.
Our hearts and prayers remain with their families.
Ar Dheis D

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